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Theatres in Stratford East, London

The Theatre Royal - The Borough Theatre / Rex Cinema - The Empire Palace of Varieties - The Grove Picture House - The Picturehouse, Gerry Raffles Square

The Theatre Royal, Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford East

Formerly Salway-road, Angel-lane, Stratford, Later Theatre Square, Stratford

The Theatre Royal, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

Above - The Theatre Royal, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

A poster for Arthur Lloyd and his wife Katty King appearing at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, three years after the Theatre opened, on May the 25th 1887  - Click to EnlargeThe Theatre Royal, Stratford East was built in 1884 and was designed by J. G. Buckle who also helped with the designs of the Royal English Opera House in Cambridge Circus, London, now the Palace Theatre. The Theatre Royal, Stratford is the only surviving example of a London suburban Theatre with an un-cantilevered auditorium supported by columns. The exterior of the building is plain, to say the least, but the auditorium, built on three levels, stalls and two balconies, is far more attractive.

Right - A poster for Arthur Lloyd and his wife Katty King appearing at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, three years after the Theatre opened, on May the 25th 1887 - The poster is for a Benefit for Joseph Ellis during the time that Fred Thomas was manager there, and is from a large collection of original Lloyd Posters collected since the mid 1800s by members of the family. To see all these posters click the Poster Index here.

The Theatre opened on Wednesday the 17th of December 1884 with a production of the Bulwer Lytton's play 'Richelieu', and three days later the ERA printed a review of the new building and the opening night production in their 20th of December 1884 edition saying:- 'On Wednesday evening last a new theatre was opened in Selway-road, (sic) Angel-lane, Stratford, giving promise of abundant amusement to dwellers in the far East. The outside of the building we must describe as ugly in the extreme, but the interior presents a very pretty and attractive appearance. The theatre, which it is estimated will accommodate about one thousand persons, has been built by Messrs David G. Laing and Son from designs and under the direction of the well-known architect Mr James George Buckle, A.R.I.B.A., of Adam-street, Ade1phi...

The Theatre Royal, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Theatre Royal, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo ML

The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in January 1998 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in January 1998 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

The main entrance to the stalls, circle, and the bar of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in August 2009. Photo M.L....The lines of the house are so arranged that a good view of the stage is obtained from every seat, and the auditorium is ventilated by means of a central sunlight and large extraction cowl over the gallery. A similar cowl ventilates the stage, and there is ample provision for fresh air.

The main exit from the stalls, circle, and the bar of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in August 2009. Photo M.L.The means of exit are ample, comprising two from each circle and three from the pit. The main exits are 9ft. wide, with four additional, each 4ft. 6in. wide. There are two staircases to each circle 4f t. 6in. wide, and constructed with fireproof materials and situated outside the walls of the auditorium.

Left and Right -The main entrance and exit to and from the stalls, circle, and the bar of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in August 2009. Photo ML

The theatre has been built in accordance with all the recent regulations imposed on metropolitan theatres, and the woodwork throughout, not excepting the seats, has been coated with Astropy's patent cyanite, a fireproof solution which has been recommended by Captain Shaw.

The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in January 1998 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - The auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in January 1998 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

The interior fittings are of a very elaborate and elegant description, but in truth it must be said that the approaches at present are in an exceedingly rough state, and that there is pervading the place a smell of paint which is anything but refreshing. Messrs Vaughan and Brown, gas engineers, of Farringdon-road, have fitted for the auditorium one of their patent ventillating sun burners, and have supplied polished brass brackets, in Queen Anne style, for the vestibule and corridors. On the prompt side of the stage they have fitted an index plate to govern the whole of the house in different sections, and have fitted a 300-light meter for the stage, and a 100-light ditto for the front of the house. The large illumination for the outside is also their work. The estimated cost of the building is between £3,000 and £4,000...

The Theatre Royal, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

Above - The Theatre Royal, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

The Theatre Royal, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Theatre Royal, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo ML

The auditorium and stage of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in January 1998 - Courtesy Ted Bottle...On the opening night there was a full attendance, the play presented by the lessee, Mr W. Charles Dillon, being Bulwer Lytton's Richelieu, with the following cast :-

Louis the Thirteenth Mr ARCHIBALD GRATSDELL
Gaston, Duke of Orleans Mr A. MUNRO
Baradas Mr W. INNES
Cardinal Richelieu Mr W. CHARLES DILLON
The Chevalier de Mauprat Mr FREDERICK THOMAS
De Beringen Mr J. KERR
Joseph Mr CHARLES HORSMAN
Huguet Mr ARTHUR CLEVELAND
Francois Miss GEORGINA MANSFIELD
Julie de Mortemar Miss BLANCHE ELLIOTT
Marion de Lorme Miss NELLIE HORSMAN

Left - The auditorium and stage of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in January 1998 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Mr Dillon won much applause. He worked under difficulties, and in one important scene had to interrupt the action of the play in order to reprove some inattentive gods who were appeasing their appetites. At the end of the act Mr Dillon very properly delivered the dwellers on high a lecture on the sin of cracking nuts, and it is to be hoped they will profit by his very earnest reproof. "You treat me fairly," said Mr Dillon, "and I will treat you fairly, and will give you good entertainment; but I certainly will not have the beautiful lines of this play spoiled and my artists insulted by your rude behaviour." The De Mauprat of Mr F. Thomas was a really fine performance, and Miss Elliott must be complimented on a good impersonation of Julie de Mortemar. Her presence was very attractive, and a sergeant of police who took a seat next to us remarked in confidence "if that 'ed of 'air's hall 'er hown, sir, it's a very fine one, and she ought to be proud on it." Mr Charles Horsman made a satisfactory Joseph, and a compliment may well be paid to Miss Georgina Mansfield for her impersonation of Francois. A comedietta concluded the entertainment, Miss Lucy Hawthorne contributing some songs. Hamlet and Richard III are in rehearsal, and on Boxing Night is promised a "grand production" of Proof.'

The above text in quotes is from the ERA, 20th of December 1884.

The Rear Stalls of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in January 1998 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - The Rear Stalls of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in January 1998 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

In the 1950s and 60s Joan Littlewood made the Theatre Royal internationally famous. She also wrote and directed her masterpiece there, 'Oh! What A Lovely War' in 1963. Gerry Raffles Square is named after Littlewood's professional and personal partner. And it was he who personally prevented the bulldozers from demolishing the Theatre during the redevelopment of the square.

In the 1970s the Theatre Royal was a regular and popular venue for a wide variety of Sunday entertainment put on for local people. One of these regulars was Mrs Shufflewick, one of the last of the Music Hall style performers. To hear a recording of Mrs Shufflewick's act at the New Black Cap in Camden Town in 1972 Click here.

Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford East, in August 2009, showing the Theatre Royal and Picturehouse. Photo M.L.In 1992 the auditorium of the Theatre was restored to its former glory and can now accommodate up to 460 people. There is also a long bar which stretches alongside the stage and is open to the public and artistes alike, and is frequently home to live music and comedy events. The site where the Theatre stands, now called Gerry Raffles Square, has been modernised and improved no end and although the Theatre's facade is still a little bland this is ofset by the bars, cafes, and the Picturehouse Cinema which now surround it.

Right - Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford East, in August 2009, showing the Theatre Royal and Picturehouse. Photo M.L.

You may like to visit the Theatre's own Website here .

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in 1885 and 1887, and he and his company performed his own Play 'Ballyvogan at the Theatre in November 1889.' There is more information and a review of this early Stratford production here.

Advertisement for Arthur Lloyd and Company at the Theatre Royal, Stratford - From The Era 27 Jun 1885.

Above - Advertisement for Arthur Lloyd and Company at the Theatre Royal, Stratford - From The Era 27 Jun 1885.

The Borough Theatre and Opera House, 361-375 Stratford High Street, Stratford East

Later - The Rex Cinema / Rex Nightclub / Sync Nightclub and Concert Venue

The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

Above - The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

The opening night programme for 'King Henry IV' at the Borough Theatre, Stratford East on Monday August the 31st 1896 - Click to see entire programme. The Borough Theatre, Stratford East was built for Albert Fredericks who was also the proprietor of the Theatre Royal at the time. The Foundation Stone for the Theatre was laid by the Mayor of West Ham, Alderman G. Hay, on Monday the 28th of October 1895.

Right - The opening night programme for 'King Henry IV' at the Borough Theatre, Stratford East on Monday August the 31st 1896 - Click to see entire programme.

The Theatre was constructed by Perry and Co., to the designs of the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham, who said, at a Tea held at the Langthorne Rooms after the laying of the foundation stone, that:- 'the theatre when built would be found to be one of the finest he had ever designed. As to dimensions, he said, speaking from memory, that the pit would be 70ft. wide and 70ft. deep, the stage 85ft. wide and 45ft. deep. The stalls, pit-stalls, and Pit will hold 1,500 people, or about 500 more than the Grand, Islington can accommodate in the corresponding seats. The upper circle will seat about 500 and the dress-circle about 200. There will be a very large and commodious gallery, which will seat 1,000 persons. The theatre, which will be lighted by electricity, is practically isolated, and in case of fire could be emptied in three minutes.' - Frank Matcham, 28th of October 1895 - Reported in the ERA, 2nd November 1895.

The Theatre opened as the Borough Theatre and Opera House, ten months later, on Monday August the 31st 1896 with a production of 'Henry IV' (See programme right).

Shortly before the Theatre opened the Standard reported on the building in their 28th of August 1896 edition saying:- ' Many of the suburbs already have theatres which for comfort, and even luxury, compare favourably with those of the Metropolis. The latest addition is at Stratford, where Mr. Albert Fredericks, of the Theatre Royal, has erected a handsome new building, capable of accommodating 3500 persons.

The Borough Theatre and Opera House occupies a commanding position in the High-street, at a corner opposite Stratford Market Station. The exterior is Elizabethan in design, and a pleasing effect is produced by the admixture of stone and ornamental panels and busts with dark red brick work. Designed by Mr. Frank Matcham the arrangement and equipment of the interior leave nothing to be desired...

The original Foyer of the Borough Theatre, Stratford East - From a programme for 'Hamlet' and School For Scandal' at the Theatre in February 1925.

Above - The original Foyer of the Borough Theatre, Stratford East - From a programme for 'Hamlet' and School For Scandal' at the Theatre in February 1925.

...A lofty vestibule, richly decorated, gives access to the dress circle and the pit and orchestra stalls. The dress-circle contains four rows of seats with places for one hundred and seventy persons. At each end is a small private box which may be reached by a corridor running along the back of the dress-circle, and affording access to the foyer, the cloak-rooms, and a handsomely-decorated saloon. The upper circle, which contains seven rows of seats, with a promenade at the rear, is immediately over the corridor, and is reached by a wide staircase. Above is the gallery, with seating capacity for 1200 people...

The original Frank Matcham Auditorium of the Borough Theatre, Stratford East - From a programme for 'Hamlet' and School For Scandal' at the Theatre in February 1925.

Above - The original Frank Matcham Auditorium of the Borough Theatre, Stratford East - From a programme for 'Hamlet' and School For Scandal' at the Theatre in February 1925.

A programme for 'Hamlet' and School For Scandal' at the Borough Theatre, Stratford in February 1925 - Click to see entire programme....Thanks to the cantilever process principle, there are no pillars to obstruct the view, and the seats are so arranged that there can be no difficulty in seeing the stage from any part of the house. Seventy-eight easy chairs, upholstered in dark crimson velvet, form the orchestra stalls. Behind these are six rows of pit stalls, and behind these again seventeen rows of benches constituting the pit. A dado of glazed bricks lines the walls, and everything has been done in this as in other parts of the theatre to secure the comfort and convenience of visitors.

The stage is large and has been fitted with every modern appliance for the manipulation of scenery, and for the comfort of players. The dressing-rooms are numerous, and are so arranged that an exit may be made without crossing the stage. Each room is comfortably furnished, and has hot and cold water laid on. On each side of the proscenium is a facade of boxes, the design and decoration of which are very artistic.

Right - A programme for 'Hamlet' and School For Scandal' at the Borough Theatre, Stratford in February 1925 - Click to see entire programme.

The drop scene represents Epping Forest in the days of Robin Hood, as well as in the days of nineteenth century picnics. Both skill and taste have been shown in the decorations. The theatre is lighted throughout with electricity, every care has been taken to secure proper ventilation, and the safety of the public is assured by the precautions against panic and fire. In every respect the new theatre gave the greatest satisfaction to a large number of people who were invited to a private inspection Yesterday afternoon.' - The Standard, 28th of August 1896.

The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

Above - The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

A Programme for The Royal Carl Rosa Opera Co. at the Borough Theatre and Opera House 1922.Shortly after the Theatre opened the Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times of London printed a small article about the building in their September 05, 1896 edition saying:- 'The New Stratford Theatre. In the way of business I had an invitation to view the new Borough Theatre and Opera House in High Street, Stratford, E. I thought, as I journeyed East, of Chaucer's character who spoke French-

French she spake full fayre and fetisly,
After the scole of Stratforde-atte-Bowe,
For French of Paris was to her unknowe.

When I reached the theatre I found a magnificent building, planned to accommodate 3500 playgoers. On Monday Mr. Beerbohm Tree opened the new theatre with "Henry IV.," and on Wednesday "Trilby" was given.

Right - A Programme for The Royal Carl Rosa Opera Company at the Borough Theatre and Opera House, Stratford in 1922.

On Monday evening the unctuous humour of Mr. Tree as Falstaff, the rough vigour of Mr. T. B. Thalberg as Prince Harry, the earnestness of Mr. Fuller Mellish as Hotspur, the quiet fun of Mr. Lionel Brough as Bardolph, the pretty singing of Miss Marion Evans as Lady Mortimer, and the delicate charm of Mrs. Tree as Lady Percy, all in turn received acknowledgment.

And, after Mrs. Tree had been presented with some costly blossoms, Mr. Tree led forward Mr. Albert Fredericks, the manager; and Mr. Frank Matcham the architect; and to one and all the audience wished success. It is a splendidly constructed theatre, with seats arranged so that every visitor can see, and exit that will enable the house to be cleared in a few seconds. The decorations are not surpassed by any central London theatre. Everywhere in the suburbs new theatres are being built, and old ones are enlarged. The little Kilburn Theatre - a transformed Town Hall — will soon be rebuilt by Messrs Morell, Mouillot, and Watts.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times of London, September 05, 1896.

The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

Above - The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

The Building News and Engineering Journal also reported on the opening of the Theatre in their September the 4th 1896 edition saying:- 'The new Borough Theatre, built from designs by Mr. Frank Matcham, was opened on Monday night. The site faces the High-street and Stratford Market Station. The theatre is built on the cantilever principle without internal columns, and is seated for 3,500 persons. The exterior is Elizabethan in style, and is carried out in dark red bricks with stone dressings. The stalls will seat 72 persons, the pit-stalls 200, the dress-circle about 170, the upper circle between 600 and 700, the pit 800, and the gallery, which is said to be the largest in London, 1,400. The stage is 45ft. by 35ft., with a clear width at the footlights of 30ft., and dressing-rooms, six boxes, refreshment buffets, and a crush-room are also provided. Messrs. Perry and Co., of Bow, the builders, have carried out the work, under the superintendence of the clerk of the works, Mr. Cropper. The decorations were executed by Messrs. De Jong and Co., of Camden Town. The electric-light intallation has been the work of Messrs. Sharp and Kent, of Westminster; the fire appliances have been supplied by Messrs. Buckley and Beach, of Chelsea; Messrs. Dean and Co., of Birmingham, have upholstered the building; and Messrs. Harper and Broadbridge have supplied the chairs.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, September 4th 1896.

The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

Above - The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

The Borough Theatre was radically altered for Cinema use in March 1933 when Matcham's auditorium was removed and a new art deco auditorium, seating 1,889, was built in its place, the exterior was left mostly intact except for the corner entrance which was re-faced (See image above).

Extant signage on the former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland.The renamed Theatre, now a super cinema complete with its own Wurlitzer organ reopened on the 5th of November the same year as the Rex Cinema, run by Essell Cinemas. The Organ is today situated at the Royalty Cinema in Bowness-on-Windermere.

There is a very nice photograph of the auditorium of the Rex Cinema here.

Right - Extant signage on the former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland.

The Rex Cinema closed on the 11th of January 1969 and the building was then converted for Bingo use. This lasted until 1974 when the Theatre briefly became a Cinema again showing Asian Films, but this wasn't to last and the building then stood unused and derelict for 21 years until 1996 when it was given a new lease of life.

With help from a local Government regeneration fund, business man, Malcolm Campbell, set about bringing the building back to life. He had the stage house and dressing room block demolished and the rest of the building restored to its former 1934 grandeur. The new building was used for live concerts and as a nightclub. Unfortunately this was only to last for ten years before the nightclub closed on the 12th of October 2007 when the owners went into receivership.

The building was then taken over by new management who refurbished the building and reopened it as a Concert venue called the Rex Music Arena on the 29th of August 2009, but this was to be short lived too as it closed at the end of the same year, although it was occasionally reopened for special events.

In October 2012 the building, owned by Newham Council since 2010, reopened after further refurbishment, as a nightclub and concert venue called Sync . The new venue could accommodate some 2,500 people and staged events such as comedy, stand up, boxing matches, concerts, and was occasionally used as a venue for the 'Secret Cinema'.

A Google StreetView Image of the former Borough Theatre, Stratford East - Click to Interact.New Licensing restrictions were imposed on the venue in April 2013 by Newham Council to stop crime and anti-social behaviour. The restrictions meant that the venue could not operate after 2am and the main auditorium was only to be used for a licensable activity after receiving consent from the police. For any event running past midnight at the venue prior consent from the Council's Anti-Social Behaviour Special Operations Team would need to be obtained.

Left - A Google StreetView Image of the former Borough Theatre, Stratford East - Click to Interact.

Sync Nightclub has since closed and the building has been empty and unused for a number of years.

There is more information and images for the Borough Theatre below, but if you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The rear elevation of the former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

Above - The rear elevation of the former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

Three contemporary Postcards of the Borough Theatre, Stratford East

The Borough Theatre, Stratford - From an early postcard

Above - The Borough Theatre, Stratford - From an early postcard

The Borough Theatre, Stratford East - From an early postcard

Above - The Borough Theatre, Stratford East - From an early postcard

The Borough Theatre, Stratford East - From a 1915 postcard

Above - The Borough Theatre, Stratford East - From a 1915 postcard

The Borough Theatre - From The Romance of London Theatres by Ronald Mayes

The Borough Theatre Stratford East.THE Borough Theatre, Stratford, was erected in 1896 for Albert Fredericks from the designs of the architect, Frank Matcham, and was known at first as "The Borough Theatre and Opera House," Stratford. It stands opposite Stratford Market Station, quite near to the old Vegetable and fruit market.

Right - The Borough Theatre Stratford East.

Stratford has been immortalised by, Chaucer, in the prologue to the "Canterbury Tales," in words which imply that in his time it was a well-known place of education for young ladies. Describing the prioress, Chaucer says :

"French she spake full fayre and fetisly,
After the scole of Stratforde-atte-Bowe,
For French of Paris was to her unknowe."

From a programme for The Astoria Theatre, London 1930The theatre was opened on August 31st, 1896, and for this occasion Sir Herbert Tree and his company from the Haymarket Theatre were specially engaged.

The production was the first part of Shakespeare's "King Henry IV.," in which Holman Clark took the role of King Henry, Tree that of Sir John Falstaff, Sir Gerald du Maurier that of Poius, and Mrs. Tree that of Lady Percy. This was followed a few days later by "Trilby," in which Tree took the part of Svengali.

Right from its commencement down to the present day the theatre has been very successful. The policy has been to stage drama with a pantomime at Christmas time, and to engage the best actors and actresses possible. At one time "East is East and West is West," and "Never the twain shall meet," was applicable to the entertainment world of London, as well as to colour and race. The type of show produced in the East End of London was widely different to West End productions. To-day, however, the style is very similar -- in many cases West End companies go to the suburbs either before or after their main run, and the Stratford Theatre has ever been to the fore in securing first-class shows.

The partly removed stage house of The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.Many famous artists have appeared there, including Henry, Irving and Ellen Terry, Fred Terry and Julia Neilson, Matheson Lang, Sybil Thorndike, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Sir John Martin-Harvey, Mr. and Mrs. Kendal, Seymour Hicks, Lewis Waller and many others. Christmas "pantos" have seen amongst others Marie Lloyd and Little Tich.

It was towards the end of last century that Fredericks, the manager of the Borough Theatre, Stratford, tried to get an injunction to prevent Waller canceling an engagement with him. There had been some competition between Waller and Beerbohm Tree in producing "The Three Musketeers." Fredericks failed to get his injunction and Waller managed to get his play out before Tree, and after a trial run at the Metropole, in Camberwell, was put on at the Globe.

Left - The partly removed stage house of The former Borough Theatre, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

The theatre is now under the management of Fred. Fredericks. It says much for the policy of those in charge, that the house can keep its head above water with the legitimate drama. The theatre is tastefully decorated in old ivory and gold, with seats and carpets of a dark red.

Text from 'The Romance of London Theatres' by Ronald Mayes - From a programme for the The Astoria Theatre, London 1930.

The Empire Palace of Varieties, Stratford East

A Sketch of the New Empire Palace, Broadway, Stratford East - From The ERA, 25 of March 1899 - To see more of these sketches click here.

Above - A Sketch of the New Empire Palace, Broadway, Stratford East - From The ERA, 25 of March 1899 - To see more of these sketches click here.

A Twice Nightly Variety Programme for the Stratford Empire for the week of May 4th, 1908The Empire Palace of Varieties was built by Messrs George Longden and Sons of Sheffield to the designs of the respected Theatre architect W. G. R. Sprague. The Theatre opened on Easter Monday 1899 with a Variety show featuring Eugen Sandow, Mark Melford, Ruby Verdi, the Gotham Comedy Quartet, Colby and Way, and many others, (more on this below). Shortly before the Theatre opened the ERA printed a review of the new building in their 25th of March 1899 edition saying:

'This handsome and commodious new theatre of varieties, which is to be opened on Easter Monday, has been erected by the London District Empire Palaces, Limited, of which the chairman is Mr H. E. Moss, and the managing-director Mr Oswald Stoll. The new building is situated in the Broadway, and considering that there exists no other hall of varieties in Stratford - a district as thickly populated as any around central London, the promoters of the undertaking have every reason to feel sanguine as to the success of the New Empire Palace of Varieties.

Right - A Twice Nightly Variety Programme for the Stratford Empire for the week of May 4th, 1908 - On the Bill were Canny Neil Kenyon, Harry Simms, Billy McClain & Co, John Warren, Wiliam, Lee, & Helen Bentley, Ray Maskell, Mddle Eldee, Ethel Bourne, and the American Bioscope and 'The Globe of Life' - The Programme is part of a collection of material from Ethel Bourne and Mona Garrick who were solo performers but also performed as part of their family act 'The Five Sisters', see card below.

It will be conducted on the two houses a-night principle - that is to say, two performances each evening will be given, the same artists appearing at both, the first beginning at half-past six and finishing at half-past eight, and the second opening at nine and concluding at eleven. The hall will be made as attractive and comfortable as those palaces of pleasure situated at the West-end of London, and on the nightly programme will be found the names of leading artists in the variety profession. In fact, everything will be done by the management to make the New Empire worthy of its name and its surroundings.

The building has been erected from designs by Mr W. G. R. Sprague, the well-known theatre architect, of Arundel-street, Strand and the accompanying engraving clearly shows what a handsome and commanding appearance the exterior presents. Surmounting the building and standing out in bold relief is a female figure holding aloft a globe, from which at night-time will stream the brilliant rays of the electric light. Over the main entrance is the date 1899, with symbolical figures on each side. The stage door is reached by a long passage on the left side of the building, where there are numerous exits, so that in the event of a panic occurring the building could be emptied in a very short space of time. The entrances to the better parts of the house are direct from the Broadway up a flight of marble stairs, about 8ft. wide, into a circular vestibule, and thence right and left to the grand circle and fauteuils. There are commodious saloons or lounges to each part of the house.

The Five Sisters - From an early Postcard The auditorium is one of the largest in London, having a depth of 70ft. from the curtain line to the back wall of the pit, with a clear width of 60ft.

Left - The Five Sisters - From an early Postcard and part of a collection of material from Ethel Bourne, a contralto vocalist, and Mona Garrick, a character actress, who often appeared individually or as part of their family act 'The Five Sisters'

The auditorium is constructed entirely without columns, and is completely fireproof. The house is on the two-tier system, consisting on the ground floor of fauteuils, pit stalls, and pit. On the first tier is the grand circle, and on the second tier is the balcony, with the gallery set up above it, forming practically a three-circle house. The style of decoration throughout is Moresque, the prevailing colours being terra-cotta, gold, and blue. Fine raised promenades are provided on each level, and a feature of the new theatre is a number of pretty boxes at the rear of the grand circle, giving a cosy appearance to the house. In the roof is a skylight which can be raised for purposes of ventilation and clearing the building of tobacco smoke. The general effect of the decorations is very bright and pretty, while at the same time anything in the nature of garishness has been carefully avoided. From every seat in the house an uninterrupted view of the stage can be obtained, an advantage that will be greatly appreciated by the patrons of the new place of amusement. The rake is also very satisfactory.

All modern appliances have been taken advantage of, such as hot water heating, hydrants, a fire-proof curtain, and electric lighting throughout; also an installation of gas in case of a temporary break down of the electric light. The stage is 40ft. deep and 70ft. wide, with a height of 55ft. to the grid. This will allow of the most elaborate pieces being staged. The contractors are Messrs George Longden and Sons, Sheffield; the decorations are by the Plastic Decoration Company, the hydrants and fire appliances are supplied by Messrs Merry weather and Sons, the steel work by Messrs Whitford and Co., the heating, gas, installations, and electric lighting by Messrs Strode and Co.; the furniture by Messrs Wolfe and Hollander. Mr Price is the clerk of the works, and Mr Fred Kennedy has charge of the press department.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 25 of March 1899.

A Twice Nightly Variety Programme for the Stratford Empire for the week of May 4th, 1908

Above - A Twice Nightly Variety Programme for the Stratford Empire for the week of May 4th, 1908 - On the Bill were Canny Neil Kenyon, Harry Simms, Billy McClain & Co, John Warren, Wiliam, Lee, & Helen Bentley, Ray Maskell, Mddle Eldee, Ethel Bourne, and the American Bioscope and 'The Globe of Life' - The Programme is part of a collection of material from Ethel Bourne and Mona Garrick who were solo performers but also performed as part of their family act 'The Five Sisters', see card above.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Stratford Empire Theatre in its opening year, in August 1899, see cutting below.

A notice in the ERA of the 26th of August 1899 reads 'Mr. Arthur Lloyd the Original Arthur Lloyd, an Immense Success with Son and Daughter at New Empires, Stratford and New-cross, The Bedford.'

Above - A notice in the ERA of the 26th of August 1899, just five months after the Stratford Empire was built, reads 'Mr. Arthur Lloyd the Original Arthur Lloyd, an Immense Success with Son and Daughter at New Empires, Stratford and New-cross, The Bedford.'

The ERA printed a review of the opening variety production at the new Empire Palace in their 8th of April 1899 edition saying:- 'The Stratford Empire enterprise was very successfully launched on Monday evening, when, in the presence of the Mayor and Corporation of the town, and of numerous gentlemen distinguished in the variety world, an orderly and superior-class audience, cramming every available nook and cranny, broke out into hearty and sustained cheers and exclamations of satisfaction at the beautiful establishment with which they had been provided. Similar enthusiasm has been manifested throughout the week, the holding capacity of the auditorium being thoroughly tested at every performance.

The entertainment which the Stratford public are invited to enjoy - and which is directed by the courteous acting-manager, Mr S. Gething, late of the Metropole at Glasgow - is one of premier pattern. Eugen Sandow receives an ovation when his muscular figure is observed on the pedestal, and expressions of wonder are everywhere heard during the exposition of the athlete's marvelous physical development. In a scene representing a Roman amphitheatre, Sandow afterwards takes hold of bar-bells and dumb-bells of extraordinary weight, one of which he balances on his knees while on another a stalwart attendant is swung to and fro. Other astounding feats are performed by this modern Hercules, who, later, seated on the haunches of a horse, bends backwards, lifts a man from the ground up over his head, and seats him astride on the horse's back. As a specimen of finger-strength Sandow tears in halves one and two packs of playing cards, his last effort being to separate no less than 154 cards. Sandow is encored again and again, and his performance is discussed with eager astonishment long after he has left the stage.

The programme is not without a sketch, and it is that wildly farcical one that has left its merry mark everywhere it has been performed, namely, Between the Turns. The talented author, Mr Mark Melford, appears in the part of the embarrassed solicitor, and his finished methods and his droll sayings and doings never fail of their intention, the house being moved to one continuous peal of laughter during the progress of the piece.

Miss Ruby Verdi, who made herself a warm favourite as Cinderella in the local Borough Theatre pantomime, well employs her pretty voice in "Just like the world outside," and does a neat characteristic dance. The tuneful singing of the Gotham Comedy Quartet, contrasted with their eccentric get-up and funniosities, takes the house by storm. They begin with a concerted setting of "Say Au Revoir," which merges into a merry carol of "Four jolly Irishmen." There is also a solo, with humming accompaniment, that might be called "Just break the news to mother," that is greeted with unbounded applause, and the talented singers are brought back many times in answer to approving cheers.

The ventriloquial arts of Colby and Way create amusement, the dancing of Miss May as the very realistic doll being viewed with pleasure. The wee Sisters Webster are heard in a lively lovers' quarrel, and Mr J. S Thomas, who possesses a good tenor voice, gains much admiration for his expressive singing of "The Death of Nelson " and Alice, where art thou? " The skillful piano playing of M. and Madame Borelli is greeted with approval, the clever and ludicrous burlesque of a selection from Il Trovatore causing considerable merriment; and the programme also comprises Mr Edgar Granville, the favourite singing and patter comedian, and Mora and Lola, musical artistes.

Some particularly fine cloths from the brushes of Mr Walter Harm, Mr Frederick Fox, the regular scenic artist, and Mr J. B. Parker are unfolded in the course of the evening, and a very capable band of about sixteen performers is admirably led by Mr Augustus Greco.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 8th of April 1899.

Later in the year a hearing was heard concerning the licencing of the Stratford Empire for stage plays, music, and dancing, and also for a licence to sell alcohol, a report of the application, carried in the ERA of the 7th of October 1899 reads:- 'Mr G. A. Riddell applied to the West Ham Town Council at a special meeting on Tuesday, for the renewal of the licence for stage plays and music and dancing, made by Mr Oswald Stoll, for the Stratford Empire, Broadway, Stratford. He said that last year, when the licence was granted, there was an ignorance of Mr Stoll's intentions, and a restriction was imposed forbidding the sale of drink on the premises. Mr Stoll, who now asked for the removal of the restriction, did not propose to sell drink throughout the house as was done in many of the London music halls; but he asked to be permitted to sell refreshments in the saloons, which would be separated from the auditorium. The application was made in order to meet the express desire of many visitors to the place, and he might assure the council that in all towns where Mr Stoll had public entertainments they had been conducted in a manner that in every case had brought forth expressions of the strong approbation of the powers that be. The application was not made with any intention to increase the business, Mr Stoll's great desire being to provide an entertainment to please the public, and he felt that it was a hardship on his patrons that they should be compelled to leave the house to get what reasonable refreshments they might require. Each of the two entertainments per night occupied an hour and fifty minutes. The entertainments, as many members of the council knew, were of a high-class character, and many of those who came to see them had commented on the fact that they could not get refreshments in the house. In answer to a question Mr Riddell said that if a licence for music and dancing only, without stage plays, were granted the result would be disastrous to the house. The judges were not decided in their own minds on the law as to what was a stage play; the law was in a nebulous condition, and a decision of a judge might depend on what he had for breakfast. The council went into committee to consider this with the other applications, and after sitting nearly two hours in camera, they announced their decisions. The application for the renewal of the licence for the Stratford Empire was granted, but the request that the restriction as to the sale of drink be removed was refused.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 7th of October 1899.

The Empire Palace Theatre, Stratford East was a victim of the Second World War when it was bombed in 1940. The Theatre was subsequently demolished.

If you have any more information or images of this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Grove Picture House, Stratford East

The former Grove Picture House, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

Above - The former Grove Picture House, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

A detail of the facade of the former Grove Picture House, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland.The Grove Picture House was built by the Frazzi Fireproof Construction Company Ltd., and opened in 1910. It was one of the earliest Cinema buildings in the Country.

Right - A detail of the facade of the former Grove Picture House, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland.

The ticket office was in the centre of the facade and can still be seen today, indeed the facade of the building is still as it was in 1910 (see photographs above and below).

The Cinema was later converted into a Billiard Hall but is today in use as a Health Centre.

If you have any more information or images of this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

An early photograph of the Grove Picture House, Stratford - From an advertisement for Frazzi Fireproof Construction Ltd., reproduced in the Cinema News and Property Gazette in February 1912.

Above - An early photograph of the Grove Picture House, Stratford - From an advertisement for Frazzi Fireproof Construction Ltd., reproduced in the Cinema News and Property Gazette in February 1912.

The former Grove Picture House, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

Above - The former Grove Picture House, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

The Picturehouse, Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford East

The Picturehouse Cinema complex on Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Picturehouse Cinema complex on Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford East in August 2009 - Photo M.L.

The Picturehouse Cinema complex on Gerry Raffles Square was built in a modern Art Deco style with four screens by the architectural company Burrell Foley & Fischer. The Complex, which forms part of a major modernisation of this site which also includes the 1884 Theatre Royal, opened in August 1997.

You make like to visit the Picturehouse's own website here.

The Picturehouse Cinema complex on Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

Above - The Picturehouse Cinema complex on Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford East in September 2014 - Courtesy Paul Bland

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.